‘Despicable’

ROME — Pope Francis called Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, for a universal ban on what he called the “despicable” practice of surrogate motherhood, as he included the “commercialization” of pregnancy in an annual speech listing threats to global peace and human dignity.

In a foreign policy address to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, Francis lamented that 2024 had dawned at a time in which peace is “increasingly threatened, weakened and in some part lost.”

Citing Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, the issue of migration, climate crises and the “immoral” production of nuclear and conventional weapons, Francis delivered a list of the ills afflicting humanity and the increasing violation of international humanitarian law that allows them.

But Francis also listed smaller-scale issues that he said were threats to peace and human dignity, including surrogacy. He said the life of the unborn child must be protected and not “suppressed or turned into an object of trafficking.”

“I consider despicable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs,” he said.

Saying a child is a gift and “never the basis of a commercial contract,” he called for a global ban on surrogacy "to prohibit this practice universally.”

Vatican teaching opposes in vitro fertilization, and Francis has previously voiced the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to surrogacy, or what he has called “uterus for rent." At the same time, however, the Vatican’s doctrine office has made clear that same-sex parents who resort to surrogacy can have their children baptized.

Common in U.S.

While commercial surrogacy contracts are common in the United States, including protections for the mothers, guarantees of independent legal representation and medical coverage, they are banned in parts of Europe, including Spain and Italy.

Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the threat to babies born to surrogate Ukrainian mothers, exposed the country’s thriving industry. Ukraine is one of the few countries that allow surrogacy for foreigners.

Critics say commercial surrogacy targets women who are poor and from vulnerable communities. Supporters say surrogacy gives women a chance to provide children to childless couples, and that commercial contracts protect both the surrogates and the intended parents.

On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops quoted Francis' words in explaining why the Catholic Church teaches that surrogacy “is not morally permissible.”

"Instead, we should pray for, and work towards, a world that upholds the profound dignity of every person, at every stage and in every circumstance of life,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi said.

In his geopolitical roundup, Francis singled out Russia by name in noting the “large-scale war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine." It marked an unusual break with Francis’ usual tendency to spare Moscow direct and public blame for the invasion when expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Francis was more balanced in his lament of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel “and every instance of terrorism and extremism.” At the same time, he said the attack provoked a “strong Israeli military response” that had left thousands dead and created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

He called for an immediate cease-fire, including in Lebanon, and the liberation of hostages held in Gaza, and reiterated the Holy See’s position seeking a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem. / AP

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